Feds Map Out Three Wind Development Areas Offshore North Carolina

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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has designated three areas off the coast of North Carolina for the potential development of offshore wind power. The Wind Energy Areas (WEAs), totaling about 307,590 acres, include the following:

– The Kitty Hawk WEA begins about 24 nautical miles (nm) from shore and extends approximately 25.7 nm in a general southeast direction at its widest point. It contains approximately 21.5 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) blocks totaling 122,405 acres.

– The Wilmington West WEA begins about 10 nm from shore and extends approximately 12.3 nm in an east-west direction at its widest point. It contains just over nine OCS blocks totaling approximately 51,595 acres.

– The Wilmington East WEA begins about 15 nm from Bald Head Island at its closest point and extends approximately 18 nm in the southeast direction at its widest point. It contains approximately 25 OCS blocks totaling 133,590 acres.

"Today represents an important step forward for North Carolina in harnessing the vast wind energy potential along the Atlantic Coast to power homes and strengthen our clean energy economy," says U.S Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. "This milestone is the result of collaboration with stakeholders and partners at all levels to identify areas off the coast with great resource potential while also minimizing conflicts with other important uses."

For example, BOEM says it worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that development in the identified areas would not pose significant risks to navigational safety. The agency also worked with the National Park Service to address concerns regarding potential visual impacts. As a result, BOEM refined the areas originally considered for commercial wind energy development in 2012.

In fact, according to the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition, the Wilmington East WEA was reduced from its previous 276,718 acres due to vessel traffic and sensitive habitats. The Wilmington West WEA was reduced from its previous 66,185 acres, omitting areas within 10 nm of the shore based on the results of a visual simulation study released by BOEM in 2012. Furthermore, the Kitty Hawk WEA was reduced 86% from its previous 877,837 acres due to vessel traffic and a 33.7 nm visual buffer requested by the National Park Service.

The Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition says it is pleased to see progress toward an offshore industry in North Carolina, but the group adds that it is concerned about some aspects of the BOEM announcement.

The coalition charges that although the visual buffer for the Wilmington West WEA "was based on a scientifically valid visual simulation study," the "unprecedented and exceptionally wide" buffer of 33.7 nm for the Kitty Hawk WEA "does not appear to be supported by any solid scientific assessment."

"North Carolina has the largest offshore wind resource potential on the East Coast," the coalition says in a statement. "However, the state's ability to play a significant role in the offshore industry, and thus reap the associated economic benefits, is dependent on an open process to identify sites that are suitable for offshore wind based on solid scientific assessment. We anticipate that actual experience with offshore wind farms in the U.S. will demonstrate that such a buffer is unnecessary and that future leasing sites for North Carolina can be identified accordingly."

The coalition says it looks forward to working with BOEM. The agency, meanwhile, is only considering the issuance of leases and approval of site assessment plans at this time. Before any leases are offered for competitive auction, BOEM will complete an environmental assessment to determine potential impacts in the WEAs in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

This latest announcement builds on BOEM's recent activities to grow offshore renewable energy through the leasing of WEAs. The agency has awarded five leases off the Atlantic Coast: two non-competitive leases (for the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound and an area off Delaware) and three competitive leases (two offshore Massachusetts-Rhode Island and another offshore Virginia). BOEM will hold a competitive auction for an area offshore Maryland on Aug. 19 and plans to hold additional auctions for WEAs offshore Massachusetts and New Jersey in the coming year.

(To read more about the emerging U.S. offshore wind industry, click here.)

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